Park UM Church goes solar with rooftop panels

Solar panels have been installed on the roof of Park United Methodist Church by a Wisconsin company. Church officials said the panels will provide electricity for the church and are the ecological equivalent of planting 456 trees.

The Broad Street house of worship is possibly the second Bloomfield church to undergo the conversion. The Brookdale Reformed Church last year became what is believed to be the first Bloomfield church to go solar when its roof panels were installed.

The installation at Park UMC began this past November and took a month. The project was managed by a church trustee, Christine Singer. In a telephone interview last week, Singer said she has been working in the field of renewable energy for more than 20 years.

About 18 months ago, she said she began researching the possibility of installing solar panels on the church roof and looked for the right company with which to work. Her church, she said, has always been environmentally aware. But nonprofits were ineligible for government funding of renewable energy projects, she said. The church selected Sunvest Solar, in Wisconsin.

“They would finance us as a nonprofit,” Singer said. “They own the solar system and we’re allowing them to use our roof. We’ll pay our monthly electric bill to SunVest Solar.”

The agreement the church has with the company is for 20 years. The company installs, owns, repairs and replaces the panels. Singer said the company did everything.

“They filed the paperwork with PSE&G and the town,” she said.
The solar panels on the church roof are being financed through a state program that promotes solar energy, according to Adam Taylor, the northeast project developer for SunVest and a West Orange native.

According to Taylor, in return for annually producing a single megawatt hour of electricity for the church, the state gives SunVest a renewable energy certificate, or REC. Since the form of renewable energy is solar, this certificate is called a SREC. These certificates went to PSE&G which in return provided SunVest with funding. Taylor said the state requires utility companies to acquire these certificates as evidence that they are promoting renewable energy.

“In the long run, every utility has to acquire a certain number of these SRECs,” he said.

According to Taylor, the Park UMC solar panels produces 35 megawatt hours per year.
“For a church, that’s a good amount,” Taylor said, “but not on the grand scale.”
Other churches in the area where his company has made solar installations are St. Matthew’s, in Secaucus; and St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, both on Long Island, NY.

“We’re willing to work with churches,” he said. “A lot of other companies won’t. It may not be profitable. Not a lot of companies will finance like this. And it’s too expensive for churches to do this independently.”
Singer agrees.

“Without the RECs, the cost of energy would be too high,” she said. “We had 90 panels installed. They cannot be seen from the street. They supply about 80 percent of the electricity to the church. We will save a little bit of money over time”

The savings will be about $25 per month.
“Over 20 years, it will add up,” Singer said. “And over time we’ll save more. The kilowatt hour cost is set for the next 20 years.”
While lower electrical costs are important, Singer said this was not the primary reason for the panels.

“It’s the stewardship of the planet — God’s creation,” she said. “That was what was driving us.”

Park UMC Pastor Joel Hubbard said the panels are a means for the church to practice a faithful and wise stewardship of a creation provided by God.
“For us, developing sustainable, solar energy is a spiritual practice,” he said.
By relying on the sun and not carbon monoxide-producing fossil fuels to generate electricity, Singer said the 90 panels on the church roof have the same impact on the environment as would the planting of 456 trees. This is the number of trees, she said, that would have been needed to absorb the carbon monoxide if fossil fuels were used instead of solar panels.